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'John Bull and his dog Faithful' (William Pitt; Charles James Fox; Richard Brinsley Sheridan; Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey)
by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey
hand-coloured etching, published 20 April 1796
NPG D12566

In caricature, an individual's feature are exaggerated or distorted - the aim was not to poke fun but also to make sharp social and political criticism. Caricature flourished in eighteenth-century Britain with the growth of the publishing trade and the relative freedom of the press. The success of caricature rested on the popular interest in physiognomy - the 'science' of judging character from the appearance of the face.

William Pitt
by and published by James Gillray, published by Samuel William Fores
line engraving, published 20 February 1789
NPG D13067

William Pitt ('An excrescence; - a fungus; - alias - a toad-stool upon a dung-hill')
by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey
hand-coloured etching, published 20 December 1791
NPG D12435

James Gillray (1756 - 1815) was the greatest graphic satirist of his times, responsible for developing the conventions of earlier satire into his own fluid style of personal caricature. These two images of William Pitt's pinched face, beady stare and elongated nose. In later An Excrescence he manipulated the shape of Pitt's now-distinctive profile into a toadstool growing out of a royal dunghill. Gillray's caricature works with extreme simplicity to attack Pitt's upstart arrogance and assertion of power during George III's first bout of madness.

'Doublûres of characters; - or - striking resemblances in phisiognomy'
by James Gillray, published by John Wright
hand-coloured aquatint and soft-ground etching, published 1 November 1798
NPG D12663

No political figure or public event was safe from Gillray's caricature until he accepted a pension to work exclusively for the Tory Anti-Jacobin Review in 1797. In 1798 the Review published his explicit Doublures of Characters; - or - striking Resemblances in Physiognomy. This print played on the recent success of the English translation of J.K Lavater's Essay on Physiognomy which offered rules interpreting facial features. Gillray ironically unveiled the 'true' faces of the opposition party by linking their individual caricatures to their various weaknesses for drink, gambling or debt.


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